Sustained Theatre Artists Yorkshire (STAY)
, an organisation which has been developed to support and provide a platform for diverse artists in the region, have a showcase event
taking place at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 20th of July and ahead of the event, one of the selected performers, Tanya Vital
has given us an insight into what it's like being a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) artist in the North.
Initiatives like Get Seen are imperative for BAME/diverse, northern artists. I created an entire career from diversity initiatives. Without them who knows where I’d be now. We have to work so much harder to even be acknowledged or accepted up here, let alone actually heard or taken seriously.
I’m a Yorkshire lass through and through, which is a difficult dichotomy given my chosen profession. I always felt like I got into acting too late. I started too late, I trained too late and although I’ve done some great things, there was something in the culture of my northern upbringing that kept telling me the arts weren’t for me. Things just weren’t that accessible. In school when I said I wanted to be an actor, I was told to be a beauty therapist.
Growing up there wasn’t anyone on TV that looked like me, or had my accent. In fact the accent bit is still a bone of contention. The first time I saw anybody who looked and sounded like me on TV was Cathy Tyson in Kay Mellor’s Band of Gold
. When I saw Cathy it was almost like a nod of permission to be me, to look like me, to sound like me and to be an actor.
I got my first break with BBC Talent Boost back in 2000. I randomly saw a leaflet in the post office and just applied and that was the beginning of my journey. I was lucky to have a brilliant drama teacher at college who forced us to apply for the National Youth Theatre
, which literally changed my life. From there, I began working as a professional actor and have been doing so ever since.
I, like many other BAME northern artists, have clawed my way into this profession tooth and nail. I’ve developed networks in London that have kept me in the loop, I’m active and try to do what I can up here in the north. I’ve often written about arts in the north and especially about how London-centric our idea of diversity is. We say BAME and we immediately think multicultural London, which is a shame since Yorkshire is the biggest county in the UK (not to mention the rest of the north).
We have a huge film and television industry, which is used as Hollywood’s playground but, to what benefit of the many brilliant artists that live here? We are often culturally castrated as the arts tend to ‘buy in’ BAME or diverse talent and expect native artists to lose their northern-ness and relocate. I’ve been told often that there are no artists of notable ability up here and it’s hard to find northern BAME artists. I’m not sure about that but, I can agree that it can be difficult to locate the hubs in which those artists might be found. The regions are very good at going off and doing our own thing, so we tend to have lots of little pots of art scattered about rather than big recognisable powerhouses.
The West Yorkshire Theatre Network, STAY and CidaCo are literally the lifeline of northern arts right now and we welcome their support. We don’t need pity - we need a platform. We exist. We are great. We are proud northerners, now watch us prove it.